Faizabad Sit-in: Concessions and Repercussions

“Sheher-e-jaanan mein ab ba safaa kon hai, Dast-e-Qatil ke shayaan rahaa kaun hai?    Rakht-e-Dil bandh lou, Dil Figaro chalo. Phir humein qatl ho jaayein, ae yaaro chalo! / Who remains untainted in the city of beloved, who deserves to hold the executioner’s axe? Hold fast for the journey my heart, go on my wounded heart. Let us march to the gallows!” – Faiz Ahmed Faiz

The timeless verses of Faiz encapsulate the resolution Pakistan was able to reach regarding the Faizabad Sit-in, which lasted for almost three weeks and ended with the state conceding to the demands of Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool (TLY) and other protesting religious parties. The capital had been held hostage over radical demands by the protestors, while the government exhibited inaction and lack of will to counter the situation. The protests were finally called off and the sit-in ended on Sunday 26th of November by Khadim Hussain Rizvi – the infamous leader of the TLY and the protests – after the demands of the protesters were met. The protests had spread across the country, engendering fears of a national catastrophe, after the Pakistan government decided to act on the Islamabad High Court (IHC) directives but failed in the Police and Frontier Constabulary (FC) joint operation on Saturday 26th of November. The Army was asked to carry out a more effective operation, but instead it opted for the more peaceful option of mediation between the government and the protestors. Peace may have been restored in the short-run, but little reflection has been done in what we stand to lose or the price we will have to pay for conceding to mobs that have tasted power now.

The demands that were agreed to avert the civil disaster seem to be no short of disasters themselves. The Dawn Editorial pointed out that the primary demand accepted was the sacking of the Federal Law Minister Zahid Hamid, in exchange that the clerics refrain from passing life-threatening fatwas against him. This appears to be acknowledgement on part of the state of the power and right of the religious clerics to pass fatwas, which have the potential to be death sentences. Weber had famously remarked that state was the entity with the monopoly over legitimate use of violence, but in admitting to sharing the right to violence the state has seemingly in extension offered a bit of statehood. In freeing the protestors arrested by the Police for criminal conduct, and agreeing to compensate the protestors and the private and public property losses, the state has failed in its most basic responsibility: holding criminals accountable to maintaining law and order. Instead an enquiry board is to be set up to probe the actions of government and administration officials who dared to clamp down on elements that challenged the writ of the state.

Khadim Hussain Rizvi has went on record to declare that the state has agreed to additional demands as well, that have not been made public as yet. According to him, Blasphemy Laws have been reinforced – that have conventionally been misused to persecute minorities. It is presumably the turn of Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah to stand in the mobs’ court over his comments on persecution of Ahmedis in Pakistan. A board of clerics led by Pir Muhmmad Afzal Qadri is to be set up to probe and decide the fate of an elected Provincial Minister of the sitting government. It isn’t surprising that the Judiciary is livid over the agreement, given it seems their job has conveniently been outsourced to religious clerics. It is hard to imagine similar elaborate boards to be set up to even probe the abduction of Police officials from the District Headquarters (DHQ) Hospital, who were tortured and left alongside a road in Rawalpindi allegedly by the protestors, as reported by Dawn. The Police and FC personnel who laid their lives in service of the state may well have been ignored in this incident, nevertheless, the miscreants deemed ‘terrorists’ by IHC killed in the operation have been given the status of martyrs by the protestors and state alike – with their chehlum to be held on 4th of January 2018 at Rawalpindi’s Liaquat Bagh. If our memory is ever to extend us the service of suppressing these events, Khadim Rizvi has announced commemoration of “Martyrs of Prophet’s honour day” to be observed on 25th November every year.

Interestingly, Khadim Hussain Rizvi has also claimed that the state has agreed to include two representatives of Tehreek-i-Labbaik in the panel assigned to decide changes in the textbook board. Expect 66% of the children in Pakistan who go to public schools, as per Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), to be subjected to ideas of intolerance. The holes we have plugged today may not withstand the floods of tomorrow. From letting them hold our capital hostage to now holding our values and a generation hostage; we have truly been generous. Tasked to lead this reformation is the self-proclaimed champion of defending the Prophet’s honour, who could not forgo his characteristic profanity to defend his own honour even if his life depended on it.

There is an urgent need for the state, as a unitary unit to address these revelations before they turn into grievances of a nation. Let the government be held accountable for bearing weak resistance, and eventually in faltering in securing law and order, and most of all our values. Let no badges be distributed to the ‘mediators’ of this agreement, before we understand what we have stepped into. How much longer before we are deluged in the perils of our myopic policies?